NEW YORK (Reuters) - Blackstone Group LP (BX.N), the world’s biggest alternative asset manager, said on Thursday it was hopeful it can cope with any U.S. tax reforms after posting better-than-expected fourth-quarter earnings on the back of a stronger stock market.
U.S. President Donald Trump has promised to overhaul the tax code this year and although change could be months away, U.S. business executives are watching closely as reforms such as corporate tax cuts could bolster profits.
Yet other changes such as prohibiting businesses from deducting interest expense from taxable income would hit private equity especially hard given the sector’s reliance on debt.
“There will be big winners and big losers and plenty of turmoil,” Tony James, president and chief executive of Blackstone, told reporters on a conference call, referring to tax reform. “But ... we think we would be fine.”
Blackstone, the first of the big U.S. buyout firms to report earnings, said economic net income - a key metric for U.S. private equity that accounts for unrealized investment gains or losses - jumped 86 percent from a year ago to $811.6 million after taxes between October and December.
That translated to economic net income of 68 cents per share. Analysts had expected Blackstone to post earnings of 64 cents, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
However, distributable earnings, which show cash available to pay dividends, were down by about a fifth at $691.8 million compared with a year ago, as Blackstone cashed in on its holdings at a slower pace.
It said private equity investments, which account for about a quarter of the $366.6 billion it manages, appreciated 10.7 percent in 2016, roughly in line with a 9.5 percent gain in the S&P 500 stock index .SPX.
The firm’s real estate business, its biggest and most lucrative unit, posted gains of 11.1 percent in 2016, as economic income more than doubled to $395.4 million in the fourth quarter.
Returns in credit investments enjoyed the steepest gains for the year, climbing between 18 and 23 percent, helped by appreciation in energy holdings.
Hedge funds, which had a troubled year, reported gains of 3.5 percent for the year.
Indeed, Blackstone confirmed last month it had started winding down its “big bet” hedge fund Senfina Advisors LLC after it faced mounting double-digit losses on investments in 2016.
Blackstone shares were up 2 percent at $31.23 at midday on Thursday.
Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Matthew Lewis
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